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EL BLOG DE HESPÉRIDES

A Ladino Odyssey:

Moshe Ha-Elion’s Homer

By Richard Armstrong

Traducción al español
 

Tradução para o português
 

Kontame, Muza, del ombre astuto k’estuvo errando

mucho despues k’estruyo la santa sitadela de Troya,

i vido muchas sivdades de djente, i supo sus sensia,

i sufrio muchos males en su korason en las mares,

i perkuro de salvarse i a kaza trayer sus kompanyos.

Ma no salvo sus kompanyos malgrado ke lo dezeava,

porke a kavza de sus lokeria se depedrieron;

bovos kriados, los kualos los bueyes de Elios Iperion

se los komieron, i el les vedo el dia del retorno.

Algo de esto konta i a nos, dioza, fija de Zeus.

Tell me, Muse, of the clever man who went wandering

greatly, after he destroyed the sacred citadel of Troy,

and saw many cities of people and learned of their knowledge (lit. sciences)

and suffered many troubles in his heart on the seas,

and tried to save himself and to bring his companions home.

But he didn’t save his companions, as much as he wanted to,

because they destroyed themselves on account of their madness;

stupid children, who ate up the cattle of Helios Hyperion

and he forbade them the day of their return.

Tell something of this also to us, Goddess, Daughter of Zeus. ​

—Translated from the Ladino by the author

So begins the Odyssey in Moshe Ha-Elion’s translation into his native Salonican Ladino, a project he undertook at the end of a long life filled with trauma, toil, and triumph. Ladino, known also as Judezmo, Djidio-espanyol, Djidio, Spanyolit, or in the case of the North African variants Haketía, was the common language among Sephardic Jews throughout the domains of the former Ottoman Empire and is based on the fifteenth-century Iberian language(s) the Jewish communities brought with them in exile. Salonican Ladino contains many Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, and Hebrew words, along with a few distinctive syntactical peculiarities, but it remains quite approachable for anyone with a background in Romance languages. Sadly, it is also a dying language, having entered the “post-vernacular” phase where there are fewer and fewer native speakers. ​ ​

¿Como llegó entonces una variante del español a ser hablada en Grecia, Turquía, Bulgaria y otros lugares orientales? Tendemos a pensar en 1453, la fecha de la conquista otomana de Constantinopla, como el momento decisivo en que la cultura literaria griega se desplazó hacia el oeste, a medida que los eruditos y sus bibliotecas se trasladaron desde Bizancio a Italia y Europa occidental. Pero 1492 es también un momento crucial: la fecha del decreto de la Alhambra en España, que exigió a todos los judíos de los reinos de Castilla y Aragón convertirse al cristianismo o bien partir. Los exiliados iniciales fueron recibidos por el sultán otomano Bayezid II, y muchos se establecieron en áreas urbanas como Estambul, Sarajevo, Sofia, Esmirna y Salónica (Thessaloniki). Es una ironía histórica interesante que Thessaloniki, la ciudad otrora conocida por su erudición homérica en época de Eustacio, arzobispo de esa ciudad en el siglo XII y autor de extensos comentarios consultados por especialistas hasta el día de hoy, se transformara durante el periodo otomano en la ciudad más judía del mundo, el único puerto del Mediterráneo que cerraba durante el Sabbath. Los judíos llevaron las primeras imprentas al Imperio Otomano, produciendo volúmenes como el Pentateuco de Constantinopla en 1547, que dispone el texto hebreo flanqueado por traducciones contemporáneas al ladino (en su lado derecho) y al griego moderno (en el izquierdo) y coronado por el tradicional targum—una traducción aramea usada tradicionalmente por los judíos para la comprensión del texto sagrado. Debajo de esto se ve el comentario medieval de Rashi. 

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¿Como llegó entonces una variante del español a ser hablada en Grecia, Turquía, Bulgaria y otros lugares orientales? Tendemos a pensar en 1453, la fecha de la conquista otomana de Constantinopla, como el momento decisivo en que la cultura literaria griega se desplazó hacia el oeste, a medida que los eruditos y sus bibliotecas se trasladaron desde Bizancio a Italia y Europa occidental. Pero 1492 es también un momento crucial: la fecha del decreto de la Alhambra en España, que exigió a todos los judíos de los reinos de Castilla y Aragón convertirse al cristianismo o bien partir. Los exiliados iniciales fueron recibidos por el sultán otomano Bayezid II, y muchos se establecieron en áreas urbanas como Estambul, Sarajevo, Sofia, Esmirna y Salónica (Thessaloniki). Es una ironía histórica interesante que Thessaloniki, la ciudad otrora conocida por su erudición homérica en época de Eustacio, arzobispo de esa ciudad en el siglo XII y autor de extensos comentarios consultados por especialistas hasta el día de hoy, se transformara durante el periodo otomano en la ciudad más judía del mundo, el único puerto del Mediterráneo que cerraba durante el Sabbath. Los judíos llevaron las primeras imprentas al Imperio Otomano, produciendo volúmenes como el Pentateuco de Constantinopla en 1547, que dispone el texto hebreo flanqueado por traducciones contemporáneas al ladino (en su lado derecho) y al griego moderno (en el izquierdo) y coronado por el tradicional targum—una traducción aramea usada tradicionalmente por los judíos para la comprensión del texto sagrado. Debajo de esto se ve el comentario medieval de Rashi. 

Both the Greek and Ladino translations are written in a form of the Hebrew alphabet, which is normal for Jewish languages (Yiddish is also written this way). Such texts are known as aljamía or textos aljamiados in Spanish (which can refer to a foreign language written in either Arabic or Hebrew script). Ladino texts were commonly printed in a cursive font (called Rashi, as the font was used to distinguish the Rashi commentaries from the Torah in printing), and handwritten in a script called Solitreo. ​

El comienzo del Génesis en el Pentateuco de Constantinopla de 1547, flanqueado por las traducciones al ladino y al griego, con el targum arameo en la parte superior y el comentario Rashi en la inferior.
Imágen 2: Primera página de La Djovenika al Lager, en caracteres tradicionales de Rashi y caracteres romanos en la parte inferior.
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Although Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece today and home to the largest university in the Balkans, it only became a part of the modern Greek state in 1912. The influx of Greeks from Asia Minor after 1922 gradually changed the character of the city, but it still retained a large Jewish, Ladino-speaking population up to the eve of World War II. Moshe Ha-Elion (1925-1922) was one of the very few survivors of the original Jewish community in Thessaloniki. Between ninety and ninety-five percent of this population perished in the Holocaust—including virtually all Ha-Elion’s family. The loss of this vibrant Jewish community and its language has permanently changed the character of the city. Hence the heroic nature of Ha-Elion’s effort to monumentalize the language of his community in translations that would be significant literary achievements in any tongue. For his considerable efforts to keep Ladino alive, Ha-Elion was awarded the Órden del mérito civil by King Felipe VI of Spain in 2017. However, he has yet to be honored in Greece for this distinctively Jewish-Greek cultural project. Perhaps one day he will be recognized by the Academy of Athens the way his contemporary Giorgos Psychoundakis, a fighter in the World War II Greek resistance, was fêted in 1981 for his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey into Cretan dialect.

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Imágen 1: Moshe Ha-Elion (1925–2022), mostrando el tatuaje de identificación del campo de concentración.]

The turn to Homeric translation was the last of Ha-Elion’s literary efforts. After release from the Nazi camp of Ebensee, Ha-Elion immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1946 and built a career in the new nation of Israel in the Israeli Defense Forces and later the Ministry of Defense. As with many survivors, it took decades before he was able to write an account of his experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau and other work camps, which he published in Hebrew, Ladino, and English editions. Then he turned to writing about them in Ladino verse, in the traditional form of the kopla, which he had printed in both Rashi and Roman script (see example). In a collection titled En los Kampos de la Muerte, Moshe wrote a long ballad, La Djovenika al Lager (“The Maiden in the Camp”), about his sister Nina, who died shortly after arriving in Auschwitz. But he wrote the poem as though she survived longer until succumbing at last to starvation; he was really writing about his own experiences of hunger, exhaustion, and despair through her. He set the poem to music and had hopes it might become a kind of holocaust anthem. The two other long poems in Los Kampos describe how prisoners ate their bread and the long ordeal of the death march that took him from Auschwitz to Mauthausen towards the end of the war.

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Imágen 2: “Menorah en llamas,” 1997 por Nandor Glid. Este fue el primer monumento conmemorativo del Holocausto en Grecia construido en un espacio público. En 2006, fue trasladado a la plaza Eleftherias, lugar del "Sabbat Negro", ocurrido el 11 de julio de 1942, cuando se reunió y registró a los hombres para realizar trabajos forzados. Esa fue la primera acción antisemita tras la ocupación alemana de Thessaloniki.

Con el apoyo de Avner Peretz, poeta israelita hebreo-ladino que tradujo En los Kampos de la Muerte, Ha-Elion emprendió la traducción completa de la Odisea, y más tarde completó la Ilíada, publicando ambas en edición bilingüe con traducción hebrea de Peretz. El trabajo de traducción fue bastante difícil, ya que la lexicografía ladina aún era inadecuada, y el corpus homérico aborda muchos aspectos técnicos alejados de la experiencia moderna. Ha-Elion estaba decidido a basar su traducción tanto como fuera posible en el ladino de Salónica, y recurrió a textos ladinos antiguos, como la traducción de la Biblia Hebrea publicada en Constantinopla por la Sociedad Bíblica Británica en 1873. Ambos traductores trabajaron estrictamente en una traducción verso por verso, e incluso replicaron el hexámetro dactílico en ladino y hebreo. Es notable que Ha-Elion no parece haber consultado ninguna traducción castellana en el proceso, aunque Peretz admitió haber consultado el  Chicago Homer  para su texto en hebreo.

As Peretz explained to me, this project was meant to be a real test of a Westernized Ladino’s literary capability, and Ha-Elion’s work certainly seems an ambitious achievement for a language that has lived mostly in oral tradition and folk song. But Ladino, as mentioned above, also has a long tradition as an idiom of strict translation going back to the Spanish Middle Ages, when it was the “barbarian vernacular” (la’az) used for oral translation of the Torah and other Hebrew texts in ritual settings. Once upon a time, there was a rich tradition of aljamiado biblical texts in Spain—written in Romance vernacular but in Hebrew characters, but most were burned by the Inquisition after the Alhambra decree of 1492. Still, the tradition of ladinamiento or biblical translation is represented by some remaining manuscripts as well as translations of the Hebrew Bible into Castilian by converso translators. So, in a sense, Ha-Elion was working in a tradition of close translation that stretches back centuries. But with Homer, he was translating as much as a Greek (now Israeli citizen) as a Jew, reaching back to his education at a Greek Gymnasium in Thessaloniki before the war upended his life.

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The first page of The Odyssey, co-translated by Moshe Ha-Elion (Ladino on the left) and Avner Peretz (Hebrew on the right).

So, this translation of Homer is a remarkable declaration of the secular status of both languages: Ladino and Hebrew side by side, breaking the commandments in their close rendering of Homer’s gods and goddesses. The dual translation, however, represents perhaps a first in Homeric translation: the Ladino faces not the Greek source text, but a Hebrew translation that is meant to guide the Israeli reader to understanding the Ladino, now monumentalized through Homer’s poetry. Ha-Elion died on November 1, 2022, and his translations will remain a unique legacy.

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Richard Armstrong
University of Houston

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